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Court ruling in favour of cola companies raises spectre of a summer of discontent

Team YS
3rd Mar 2017
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The Madras High Court has dismissed a bunch of PIL petitions against cola companies operating in Tamil Nadu, once again raising the spectre of a long summer of discontent in the water-scarce state.

The court turned down the plea saying there was no evidence of any damage to agriculture in the region due to the bottling operations of the companies in question.

The ruling has come as a shock, as the petitioners were confident that the court would listen to their plea and stop two multinational cola companies from drawing water from the Thamirabarani river in Tirunelveli district. The petitioners had argued that these companies were drawing more water than allocated and that this was having an adverse affect on agriculture in the region.

A Coca-Cola bottling plant

Water has been a sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which have for long been embroiled in political battles over the issue of sharing the Cauvery waters. Last year, a deficient monsoon not just aggravated the water woes of farmers and urban centres but also added to the political tension between the two states.

According to media reports, the court in its ruling stated that the two cola companies drew only 43 million cubic feet of water out of the 5,000-odd million cubic feet that runs off into the sea. It also stated that the Industrial Growth Centre in the district was set up by the Small Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT) to create employment in the region and that it had all the powers to stop water supply to these industries if there was water scarcity. Media reports also noted that the IGC could draw 3 million gallons per day to supply water to several companies spread across 2,000 acres earmarked for industrial use. Currently, there are 27 companies in the region and use only 900 acres of space.

This case is a classic representation of how one has to go to court with hard data and evidence to fight global corporations. For Coke and Pepsi court cases on water usage are aplenty, they are methodical in data compilation and can defeat any PIL that presents itself on assumptions.

A couple of years ago a move by a cola company to set up a bottling plant in Erode was dismissed because of public pressure.

How does it impact industry?

Startups, technology corporate and small businesses serve over 60 million people in the six biggest cities of Delhi Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai. Most of the water for cities is coming from nearby farms and ground water is being utilised to the maximum. Today, borewells go as deep as 1,000 feet to supply potable water to city businesses. If the monsoons continue to be bad in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu this year as well then one must not just expect a political shakeup. The cost of water supply to industry will go up. Between irrigation infrastructure scams, drought, bad monsoons and drying rivers it is about time a unified effort to conserve water emerged. Currently there too many self interest groups driving the policy agenda.

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